Published: February 9th 2010February 9th 2010
New Year's night
Aiesecers and interns =]
Ok the fact that I haven’t blogged in about a month is a fine testament to the fact that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. This month has been quite exciting; not cause of a continuous level of activity, but mostly because of specific trips and events that we’ve had. Unfortunately that has to wait until next time, cause this entry is about New Year’s and our post New Year trip to Lviv.
New Year in Ukraine is a pretty big deal. It’s sortof like Christmas in other countries, where there’s a big tree set up and decorated, presents exchanged, big meals prepared and obligatory family time set up. And of course, the numerous parties. Ukrainian people just like to celebrate at this part of the year I think. There’s western Christmas (which isn’t too big), New Year’s, Orthodox Christmas (7th Jan) and Old New Year (relating to the older, unused calendar). Each has its own traditions and customs associated with it, and the level of celebration varies from person to person.
We sortof had a few options for New Year’s. The AIESECers here rented out a flat and planned some logistics around that. There was another BBQ in a
Some of our train friends
That hat is pretty cool, but not as cool as the vegetarian guy next to him
park somewhere after midnight. We had the option of a large room at the place that I worked, where we could socialize. And some people wanted to spend time outside, because it’s traditional that it snows on New Year’s Eve. In the end, after a lot of planning and orchestrating, we (the interns) decided to do it all. Unfortunately, the weather on the day was quite depressing, and it wasn’t looking like the rain was going to stop. As a result, the BBQ was cancelled. But we still managed to have a fun night, with out lil’ party at the start, then visiting the AIESEC flat to party with them for a while, and finally an exciting display of fireworks on the embankment before heading back to warmth.
Our recovery time was short lived though, because Angela, Fiona, Rita and I had to leave the next afternoon for our trip to Lviv, which would be an 18 hour overnight train ride. A lot of people were pretty freaked out by the fact that we would be travelling alone, with no Ukranian or Russian speaking people to help us. We figured we’d be fine, that the few phrases that we
Arriving in Lviv
All of the tramping group. Sadly I lost their phone numbers, so hopefully we can meet up someday..
knew and our awesome miming skills would be of great use. Our first little hitch (a mix up with our tickets on the train) proved to be a blessing in disguise, as we were helped by a group of people who were on a trekking trip, as some of them knew enough English to help us out. After that, we had a pretty fun train ride eating, drinking and singing with them (they confiscated our junk food and gave us delicious home cooked food), and the girls being serenaded by a particularly obstinate Ukranian, singing many songs about ‘Girls from New Zealaaaand’. Hopefully we can meet up with those guys again~
We got there safely in the end, and we weren’t as alone as we thought we’d be. We met and were escorted around by an AIESECer, an intern from India, and one of his English students. They were pretty cool guys, and helped us quite a lot. The student was pretty interesting, he was a chess instructor (Master level), and claimed his age was somewhere between 20 and 40 (I still don’t know what it is). And best of all, while we were at the hostel, we met
Our trekking group
Our little group, Paval, the Aiesecer from India, his student and the NZers!
a Russian tourist named Anton, who has to be one of the most patient and tolerant guys that I have ever met. His experiences with the four New Zealanders that he met would probably be etched into his memory forever.
In western Ukraine, they speak mainly Ukranian; the people there are more patriotic and nationalist, but they were able to speak and understand Russian, so with the aid of Anton, we managed to get by quite well. On the first day, we went up Castle hill, which didn’t actually have a castle, but had a good view of the town and surrounding mountains for miles out. Later, we went to visit the cemetery. It seems odd yes, but apparently going to the cemetery in Lviv is a must. It is unused, so all the graves and tombstones are from quite a while ago, and beautifully made. We went at about dusk, so the girls were a bit spooked out. What didn’t help was when Angela took a cool photo of one of the sculptures, with the moon hanging in the sky in the background. But when we looked up at the sky straight after, we could not locate the
Our first night with Anton
Believe it or not, this was our serious photo
moon at all, and it remained out of sight for the rest of the night. *insert X files theme song here*
The next day, we went on a tour of the city centre, to visit all the churches that were nearby. There were about a dozen churches, and all within a radius of about 30 minutes, in many different styles, and varying levels of grandeur. I do appreciate architecture, despite my lack of interest in churches in the religious sense, but it was quite fascinating going to them all and appreciating the work gone into each one. To truly appreciate the church district, you’d probably need a longer period of time, and to go on a day where it wasn’t too crowded, because the aura and sense of worship in each church was quite solemn, and it was hard to be in there and not seem like a full blown tourist.
On a lighter note, the next place we visited was a beer museum, Lviv’ska, one of the oldest breweries in Europe. The tour was of course, in Ukranian, but we managed to pull ourselves away from the tour and meander around taking lots of photos and catching
One of the churches
There were some pretty cool churches around, bur hardly enough time to visit them all
glimpses of various factors of production involved in the brewing process. At one point, we saw a map of the world and places where the beer was exported. Unfortunately, New Zealand failed to appear on the map at all, so I’m quite disappointed in that! C’mon Ukraine, we’re right there! Later that evening, I had an amazing experience. I learnt a lot about myself as a result. There was a large, quite impressive looking opera house in the city centre, near where we were staying. The shows were, of course, in Ukranian, and we heard that there would be a show that night; a comedy one. The girls were sortof keen to check it out, and I thought it would be interesting too.. Normally comedy transcends language barriers, so I figured if we stayed for about an hour out of three, as the girls had planned, it was be a nice experience, after which we could enjoy the evening in the city. So we went in, quite informally dressed compared to the rest of the audience, and waited for the start of the show. For the first half hour, I was mildly entertained, with the singing, dancing, comedic displays, with
Shiny nose and finger
Rub rub rub for good luck
somewhat of the drama discernable. Half an hour after that Fiona woke me up and I awkwardly realized that it was intermission, and we could slip out, the novelty of the show having worn out a while ago. To my joy(!), the girls were enthralled by the pretty colours and decided that they would stay for the entire show. Grudgingly, I figured that I might as well stay with them, and maybe I would take in some of the show, or get into it more as it progressed. Unfortunately, the lesson that I learned at the end of it was that operas, especially foreign language ones, are not something that an averagely reasonable person can appreciate. Preferably, you need to be female =/.
The area around Lviv is famous for historic castles, churches, palaces etc. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time; we originally planned on spending an overnight trip to visit one of those regions and having a proper castle experience. So instead, we asked some locals, and found out that there was a castle in a region that was about an hour or so by train. We awoke early in the morning, and made it
Beer museum entry
Traditional delivery truck maybe?
to the train station, and bought tickers successfully. (The cost of the tickets, which was a return trip, was roughly the same as how much it costs me to bus to university from home in Auckland =/). Sadly when we got there, we discovered that the castle was closed on Mondays, so our trip was in vain. And the town centre nearby had practically nothing to do, so we bummed around for a few hours and then decided to head home, dejected. Although, I did manage to make some wee little snowmen while I was there, so I was mildly pleased.
Learning from that, I decided to put my Mr. Organiser skills into use, so when we went into a tourism information place at the town centre, I was glad to find out that the guy there spoke English. We wouldn’t have Anton with us the next day, so I decided to plan from start to end, everything that we would need to travel there and back by ourselves, including the most simple transfers. (speaking the local language = huge advantage). The next morning, we set off again, and apart from a few minor hitches, we managed to make
Grr-rar. How cool do I look?
it there and back in one piece. The castle was ok I guess, it looked a bit more impressive than the one we were meant to go to previously, but a lot more modern. 18th or 19th century I think. The insides were decorated with lots of historical and religious artwork, and there were a few English descriptions dotted around. So in the end, Angela was quite happy as she got her castle experience, although in spite of remembering to dress the red haired Fiona in green, we didn’t get her tower photo with Shrek .
The upside to spending four days away from ‘home’ was that we didn’t have to cook meals. That did, however, mean that we ended up spending a lot of money on food. Well, a lot by Ukranian standards. For me, going to a restaurant or café and spending the same amount of money as I would at Burger Fuel or Revive to get a pretty full on meal and drink is quite a sweet deal. We were told a few places to visit, which I’ll mention later, and we also visited some random places around the area. The first place we actually went
there by ourselves, and, failing to read the menu at all, endeavored to order breakfast based on our dictionary and phrasebooks, fairly well. Another place we went to for dinner was interesting, cause I tried a drink called ‘hot beer’. Warm beer is pretty disgusting, so this drink was surprisingly good; sortof sweet, and dessert like nearly. Another cool place was a large bar/restaurant/café thing, which I was quite pleased to go to because I was quite hungry. I ended up ordering a large pizza and some potato things, which I thought should be ok (after the ordeal with the opera, I needed some culinary gratification. Fiona then interjected, offering to share the meal with me (I forgive you Fiona, if you’re reading this; I assume you had good intentions, thinking that I needed some assistance in packing that all away). That pizza was possibly the best pizza that I’ve had in Ukraine so far, perhaps even compared to New Zealand. I need to re-visit that place at some point I think.
For all the recommended places, we found out that they were quite popular in general, with Lviv being a tourist town and whatnot. So with the assistance
of Anton, we booked meals in those places, and sortof scheduled our time around them. I’m not really used to doing that in all honesty, my past experiences usually have food as a necessity, and planning where to eat is planned around the main events. But you know, when in Rome… I mean, I’ve always taken food for granted really. At home we usually have pretty good supplies, and any time I buy food outside it’s usually just as a variant or specific cravings. And being vegetarian sortof limits my options, but in a way that I’ve learnt to deal with. Usually when I choose my own food, its fine, the only time I really run into problems is when others pick a place, and my only options are a garden salad, or roasted vegetables. I don’t dislike either, but I don’t really consider either to be a meal.. more of a light snack. At any given time, I would prefer a falafel kebab from a road side vendor (sorry Marina) over well presented café food, at three times the price, a third of the serving and none of the streety goodness. As Rita put it, I prefer my meals
Get down from there woman.
This was when we decided to invest in a leash for Angela
‘flavoursome’, which to me just seems like the most logical thing in the world, with flavour being synonymous for deliciousness.
The first place that we went to was one called Mazoha, which we had heard some... interesting things about. Firstly, there was a statue of a man outside, with open pockets. Apparently if you were a lady and you reached inside his pocket, if you were lucky, you would get some kind of exciting treat. So the girls all tried it, and it turned out that they all got lucky. The entire restaurant was ‘peephole’ themed or something, which is a bit hard to explain, while keeping this PG... Let’s just say that the person after whom the restaurant was named for and Alim would get along very well. The food there was ok, I had some pasta if I remember correctly, and there was some kind of hot oil fondue? I managed to sneak some bread in there before it got too meaty.
The next was a quaint, tiny café called the Blue Bottle. In was nestled away in some building, and is apparently the oldest café in Ukraine, dating back some 200 years. The kitchen
Look at how wee he is!
there was tiny, and there wasn’t a lot of choice in terms of food, so we ordered the cheese fondue, which turned out to be one of the best decisions that we made thus far. It’s amazing how something as simple as cheese and bread can be so amazingly delightful, but it provided instant gratification for a cheese lover like me.
And saving the best for last, we went to what was probably my favourite place of them all, a café/restaurant called Kriivka. All we heard about this place was that you needed a password to get in, and it was pretty hard to get reservations. Every time we went there, there was a pretty long line, and no spaces, and we couldn’t even see what the place was like. So since curiosity got the better of us, we made reservations and headed there the final night. After knocking on the door, a man dressed in a Ukranian military uniform, holding a gun asked us for the password (Glory to Ukraine, in Ukranian), after which we had to down a shot of vodka, and proceed through a hidden door, behind a fake bookshelf. There, we went downstairs, and the
Other toys not pictured
entire place was themed like a wartime bunker, with guns and ammunitions dotted around the place, and the staff in military uniform, the ceilings decorated, and the menus in the style of wartime literature and paper. The food there was pretty good, the English menus a sign of the popularity of the place. I heard that it was very popular among Russian tourists, which was ironic because the theme was mainly anti-Soviet (probably not too serious), with dished having names like Drunk Stupid Russian, etc.
So apart from the eating and the excursions, other stuff that we did was wandering around the market place, and climbing up the 400+ steps of the tower of the town centre, to get an epic view of the city and mountains surrounding it. I took a bunch of panorama photos (3 landscape photos, stitched together), so it looks pretty cool, if I want to get it printed =]. The market was fairly exciting, I realize now that the prices of souvenirs were quite low, so I should have done a bit more shopping there. I attempted to haggle, as I thought there would be quite pleased with the foreign business, but sadly, no
Happy dinner time
Roskill Ngata represent!
one would comply, so it was a bit of a lose-lose situation. Shame on you, market vendors! I did manage to sort of haggle though, I wanted something, and the only one left was the display one, and it was a bit dirty, so I insisted on getting a discount, (which saved me $1, yay). On the weekend, there was a horse and carriage ride around the main centre, which we thought would be quite exciting, since Santa was leading the horses, but unfortunately it was only on the weekend, and the day that we were able to do it, there was no one there . The strangest incident was probably when a random English speaking Ukrainian got very angry at me for buying Soviet themed souvineirs, and I was quite scared for a while, before I showed him my other stuff and he realised that I was but a lowly tourist..
So by the end of the trip, we were all Lviv’d out, and managed to catch our train back to Dnipro in time. The return trip was far less exciting that the first one, with no exciting people, and the ticket lady in an extremely grumpy mode,
Castle on the hill
probably because she had to work on 6th January evening (Christmas). We did end up missing Ukrainian Christmas, and had a fairly mediocre normal Christmas, but I’m sure that all the other experiences that we had made up for it quite well.
Points to ponder.
Most people were quite surprised that we braving the trip across the country without any natives, and that probably made sense. Travelling across New Zealand without any English would be hard enough, let alone Ukraine without Ukranian or Russian. So all in all, we were quite glad to meet Anton, although I don’t know how glad he was to meet us :P. It is quite hard not knowing the language, miming and pictures can only get you so far, for things as simple as ordering food in a restaurant, to trying to sort out ticket issues with public transport officials. It is a LOT easier with a local; trust me, but its still pretty fun without. And as you may find out if you read my next issue, we weren’t afraid to try it again =].
There are more photos below